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ASO ROCK WATCH: That presidential approval to employ 774, 000 Nigerians. 2 other talking points

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President Muhammadu Buhari, in the past week, approved the employment of 774,000 Nigerians into the Special Public Works programme, supposedly, as part of a stimulus package to ameliorate the effect of  the coronavirus pandemic in the country. This was made public by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, in Abuja, at a media briefing on fiscal stimulus measures.

The Minister noted that 1,000 people were expected to be recruited from each of the 774 Local Government Areas of the country and that the Federal Government had earmarked N60 billion as allowances and operational cost from the COVID-19 crisis intervention fund for the initiative.

“With regards to the Special Public Works Programme, Mr President had previously approved a Pilot Special Public Works Programme in eight States to be implemented by the National Directorate of Employment from February 2020 to April 2020.

“Mr. President has now approved that this programme be extended to all 36 States and the FCT from October 2020 to December 2020. The selected timeframe is to ensure that the Programme is implemented after the planting season is over, and it will result in the employment of about 774,000 Nigerians (that is, 1,000 people per Local Government),” Ahmed asserted.

While it is right to commend the President for this lofty move, it is pertinent to appraise the framework around the programme. It may suffice to raise a few posers. What manner of employment is derivable from Buhari’s new initiative? Will it be a permanent employment or similar to the troubled N-Power programme, a largely stop-gap measure designed to keep jobless youths busy over a period? Will it be an an all-comers affair, open to graduates and non-graduates alike? Indeed, without clearly spelt out objectives and framework, doubts have been cast over sustainability of the proposed programme.

It is imperative, therefore, that the fulcrum of President Buhari’s initiative be built around sustainability in the provision of jobs. Something permanent that will engage Nigerians and help them build their lives and provide for their families is what they crave for. Nonetheless, the President must do well to ensure that transparency and merit are cleverly built into the recruitment process.

2 other talking points

Building ‘stomach’ infrastructure 

One other story that made the rounds in the Presidency, last week, was Buhari’s directive for the distribution of 150 trucks of rice, seized by the Nigeria Customs Service, to the 36 States across the federation. The President’s directive was targeted at cushioning the hardship brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this while answering questions from journalists at a briefing in Abuja. She stated that the seized trucks of rice had been handed over to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management for onward distribution to Nigerians.

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Ahmed added that the President had also approved the distribution of grains from strategic reserves across the country. “In addition, President Buhari also approved the reduction of the price of fertilizer from N5, 500 to N5, 000 per bag to support the farmers at this critical period,” she declared.

“We don’t want to rush and announce measures that will end up benefitting only a few of segments. Our interest is to make sure that as much as possible a lot of Nigerians are productive and have liquidity in their hands. This will help to increase the consumption thereby assist to improve the economy,” she said while noting that more measures would be taken to provide broader benefits to the citizens.

As brilliant as caring for the stomach of citizens may sound, concerns have been raised in certain quarters over the propriety of distributing seized goods still undergoing adjudication in some courts. The government must, indeed, be seen to be fair in dealing with issues of alleged crime.

More importantly, as doubts persist over the right sharing formula of palliatives, the President must weigh in on perceptions of discrimination by certain sections of the country.

The cries may not be completely unfounded and the circulation of some data, yet to be denied by the presidency, lend credence to this uproar.  At the centre of it is a social register which the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadia Umar-Farouq, has refused to make public even as demanded by strategic organs of government like the national legislature.

As the ongoing lockdown makes life difficult for the people, employing the right strategy in ensuring that the rice reaches out to all and sundry would make citizens to have faith in the government. It behooves Mr President to expedite effort to ensure the right thing is done.

On Ali, Enahoro and co

In the past week, President Muhammadu Buhari, granted a presidential pardon to former Governor of old Bendel State, late Professor Ambrose Ali and foremost nationalist, late Chief Anthony Enahoro. He also granted pardon to three other Nigerians, two of whom are ex-military officers, including 2,600 inmates of the Custodial Centres of the Nigeria Correctional Services (NCoS). This was done as part of measures to control the spread of coronavirus in the country.

The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola disclosed this in Abuja. He stated that 70 of the inmates would be released in Abuja. The rest are expected to be released by State governors after convening a meeting of their individual committees on Prerogative of Mercy.

“I am pleased to inform you that five ex-convicts recommended for presidential pardon (by Buhari) have been so pardoned. They are late Prof. Ambrose Ali, Moses Effiong, Major E. J. Olanrewaju and Ajayi Olusola Babalola. Prof. Ali was the governor of the old Bendel State in the Second Republic (1978-1983) and a great progressive while Chief Enahoro was a foremost nationalist who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence”, the Minister averred.

The presidential pardon of Ali and Enahoro, though commendable, has since sparked controversy and wide debate in different circles. Some critics have alleged that the President and his handlers did a shoddy job on Enahoro, in particular.

Either way, Mr President cannot be accused of lack of initiative. However, Enahoro’s supposed pardon may remain a screaming mistake. Whether the presidency will offer a response on the seeming error would remain a matter future speculations. Buhari and his handlers may do well to ensure proper and critical scrutiny before issuing pronouncements of this sort.

It could be recalled that in 2017, Nigerians expressed same outrage over the inclusion of about eight dead Nigerians on the list of appointments into the governing boards of agencies and parastatals in the country.

By John Chukwu…

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